Dear Editor, Local community identity must be a key issue in looking at the way we wish to be seen and democratically represented,
What we are missing in this constituency boundary debate is the need to fundamentally question the functions and therefore the composition and size of the Westminster Parliament. We need a more holistic approach to the way we are governed.
What is the case for 600 or 200 MPs? It is argued we still need 600 so that all constituencies are roughly the same size in terms of voters and that they maintain the local link. Clearly not all constituencies will generate the same amount of local work and, more fundamentally, we need to question why members of the Westminster Parliament should be spending much of their time and taxpayers’ resources on local issues.
With Scotland, Wales, NorthernIreland and, more especially, London well down the devolution track with more to come, the functions of Westminster and its size and costs have to be questioned.
We are in sight of Westminster becoming, on domestic matters, a wholly English Parliament with decisions about policies in Dudley and Birmingham all being taken in London or by its agents. England is too complex for this approach to be sustainable and an “outcomes”, rather than “numbers” alternative is needed.
MPs need to deal with UK-wide business and their role should not be different wherever they represent in the UK.
Members of Parliament whether in the House of Commons or the second chamber need to be responsible for UK-wide business. Westminster can then be significantly down-sized and most of its domestic business and democratic accountability for it transferred to the local region. In Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland this would be fairly straightforward. We are left with the English Question.
A principled approach is needed based on placing decision-making as close to those affected by it in a way which is as simple and clear to the public as possible. We should be looking for as many functions and representation as possible to returned to local communities and not the large local authorities we have been saddled with by successive Governments in London supported by the main political parties.
We need local communities with which people identify to provide the basic building blocks for a new constitutional settlement. We do not need to start with the large anonymous local authorities which Westminster forced on the West Midlands in the 1960s and early 1970s. There will be functions that need to relate to larger populations and areas including the West Midlands region and its sub regions.
We need a real debate about the distribution of functions rather than a sterile debate about numbers of MPs.
We could start the process by insisting that the future size of a reformed Westminster is driven by function and built from the local region rather than from Westminster. For example MPs and members of a reformed wholly or largely elected second chamber could be elected at the regional and or sub-regional level. If MPs were elected at a sub-regional level and members of the second chamber at the regional level it would reflect their different responsibilities.
Further, the regional members of the second chamber could, at least for an interim period, provide a democratically accountable body for government activity in the region and articulate the region’s voice in UK government and beyond.
This approach would be more democratically accountable, innovative and cost effective, it would give local communities, the West Midlands region and its sub-regions far greater influence over their lives at no extra cost.